Advocate Denise Fisher SC holds a BA and LLB degrees from the University of Witwatersrand. Fisher, who is a member of Group One, joined the Bar in 1989 and was conferred silk in 2010. She chaired the Johannesburg Bar Council’s committee which drafted its Equity and Diversity and Harassment policies. Since 2011, she has acted as a judge for 19 weeks in total and handed down 41 written judgments.
Asked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng about her experiences working as a female advocate, Fisher said that when she first started off in the profession she was “given very few opportunities to act in matters of some substance” and was also “not given many briefs.”
The latter, Fisher said, was “a matter of concern” since this was important for the “mentorship” of juniors. Fisher maintained that the paucity of briefs was “because of my gender.” She added that while things have improved, transformation, especially for black females, was still “moving too slowly.”
Reacting to a question about transformation at the Bar by commissioner Dikgang Stock, Fisher identified “poverty” as a major stumbling block to transformation at the Bar. She related tales of young juniors sleeping in their masters’ chambers on the eve of a court appearance and washing their clothes at the office because they didn’t have the taxi-fare to commute.
Fisher was probed on her strong views against the death penalty which she said was about “human life and dignity. Its about the dignity of our country. Living in a country where the law stoops to kill its citizens is prehistoric.”
Later, Fisher added that the law had to be “merciful” and that would be impossible if the “fervour” of familial loss was allowed to colour the dispensing of justice: “The state has got to be an example to people. I don’t believe the state can teach others that killing is wrong, if it does so itself.”
Asked by Advocate Mike Hellens SC about her judicial philosophy, Fisher said “everything boils down to a protection of the rule-of-law that has got to be central to any philosophy on the law.” She added that judges must be mindful of the Constitution and its “rehabilitative and formative aspects.”